By:  Harris                                            S.B. No. 294
                                A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
                                       AN ACT
 1-1     relating to the appointment of probate masters for certain courts.
 1-3           SECTION 1.  Chapter 54, Government Code, is amended by adding
 1-4     Subchapter G to read as follows:
 1-5                       SUBCHAPTER G.  PROBATE MASTERS
 1-6           Sec. 54.601.  DEFINITION.  In this subchapter, "statutory
 1-7     probate court" has the meaning assigned by Section 3, Texas Probate
 1-8     Code.
 1-9           Sec. 54.602.  APPLICATION.  This subchapter does not apply to
1-10     the statutory probate courts of Dallas County.
1-11           Sec. 54.603.  APPOINTMENT.  (a)  After obtaining the approval
1-12     of the commissioners court, the judge of a statutory probate court
1-13     by order may appoint a person to act as probate master for the
1-14     statutory probate court.
1-15           (b)  The commissioners court may authorize the appointment of
1-16     a probate master for each court or may authorize one or more
1-17     probate masters to share service with two or more courts, if more
1-18     than one statutory probate court exists in a county.
1-19           (c)  If a probate master serves more than one court, the
1-20     probate master's appointment must be made with the unanimous
1-21     approval of all the judges under whom the probate master serves.
1-22           (d)  A probate master must meet the qualifications to serve
1-23     as a judge of the court to which appointed.
1-24           (e)  A probate master appointed under this subchapter may
 2-1     serve as a master appointed under Section 574.0085, Health and
 2-2     Safety Code.
 2-3           Sec. 54.604.  TERMINATION OF PROBATE MASTER.  (a)  A probate
 2-4     master who serves a single court serves at the will of the judge of
 2-5     that court.
 2-6           (b)  The employment of a probate master who serves more than
 2-7     two courts may only be terminated by a majority vote of all the
 2-8     judges of the courts that the probate master serves.
 2-9           (c)  The employment of a probate master who serves two courts
2-10     may be terminated by either of the judges of the courts that the
2-11     probate master serves.
2-12           (d)  The appointment of the probate master terminates if:
2-13                 (1)  the appointing judge vacates the judge's office;
2-14                 (2)  the probate master becomes a candidate for
2-15     election to public office; or
2-16                 (3)  the commissioners court does not appropriate funds
2-17     in the county's budget to pay the salary of the probate master.
2-18           Sec. 54.605.  COMPENSATION.  (a)  A probate master is
2-19     entitled to the compensation set by the appointing judge and
2-20     approved by the commissioners court.  The salary of the probate
2-21     master may not exceed the salary of the appointing judge.
2-22           (b)  The compensation of the probate master shall be paid by
2-23     the county from the county general fund in the same manner that the
2-24     appointing judge's salary is paid.
2-25           Sec. 54.606.  OATH.  A probate master must take the
2-26     constitutional oath of office required of appointed officers of
 3-1     this state.
 3-2           Sec. 54.607.  MAGISTRATE.  A probate master appointed under
 3-3     this subchapter is a magistrate.
 3-4           Sec. 54.608.  CASES THAT MAY BE REFERRED.  (a)  Except as
 3-5     provided by this section, a judge of a court may refer to a probate
 3-6     master any aspect of a suit over which the probate court has
 3-7     jurisdiction, including any matter ancillary to the suit.
 3-8           (b)  Unless a party files a written objection to the probate
 3-9     master hearing a trial on the merits, the judge may refer the trial
3-10     to the probate master.  A trial on the merits is any final
3-11     adjudication from which an appeal may be taken to a court of
3-12     appeals.
3-13           (c)  A party must file an objection to a probate master
3-14     hearing a trial on the merits not later than the 10th day after the
3-15     date the party receives notice that the probate master will hear
3-16     the trial.  If an objection is filed, the referring court shall
3-17     hear the trial on the merits.
3-18           (d)  Unless all parties consent in writing to a probate
3-19     master hearing a contested trial on the merits of a lawsuit in
3-20     which the referring court's jurisdiction is concurrent with the
3-21     district court in the county of the referring court, the matter
3-22     must be tried by the referring court.  In a lawsuit in which the
3-23     referring court's jurisdiction is concurrent with the district
3-24     court, any order rendered under a probate master's report is void
3-25     if the parties do not consent in writing to the probate master
3-26     conducting the trial on the merits.
 4-1           (e)  If a jury trial is demanded and a jury fee paid in a
 4-2     trial on the merits, the probate master shall refer any matters
 4-3     requiring a jury back to the referring court for a trial before the
 4-4     referring court and jury.
 4-5           Sec. 54.609.  ORDER OF REFERRAL.  (a)  In referring a case to
 4-6     a probate master, the judge of the referring court shall render:
 4-7                 (1)  an individual order of referral; or
 4-8                 (2)  a general order of referral specifying the class
 4-9     and type of cases to be heard by the probate master.
4-10           (b)  The order of referral may limit the power or duties of a
4-11     probate master.
4-12           Sec. 54.610.  POWERS OF PROBATE MASTER.  Except as limited by
4-13     an order of referral, a probate master may:
4-14                 (1)  conduct a hearing;
4-15                 (2)  hear evidence;
4-16                 (3)  compel production of relevant evidence;
4-17                 (4)  rule on the admissibility of evidence;
4-18                 (5)  issue a summons for the appearance of witnesses;
4-19                 (6)  examine a witness;
4-20                 (7)  swear a witness for a hearing;
4-21                 (8)  make findings of fact on evidence;
4-22                 (9)  formulate conclusions of law;
4-23                 (10)  recommend an order to be rendered in a case;
4-24                 (11)  regulate all proceedings in a hearing before the
4-25     probate master; and
4-26                 (12)  take action as necessary and proper for the
 5-1     efficient performance of the probate master's duties.
 5-2           Sec. 54.611.  ATTENDANCE OF BAILIFF.  A bailiff shall attend
 5-3     a hearing conducted by a probate master if directed to attend by
 5-4     the referring court.
 5-5           Sec. 54.612.  COURT REPORTER.  (a)  A court reporter is not
 5-6     required during a hearing held by a probate master appointed under
 5-7     this subchapter unless required by other law.
 5-8           (b)  A party, the probate master, or the referring court may
 5-9     provide for a reporter during the hearing.
5-10           (c)  The record of a hearing before a probate master may be
5-11     preserved by any means approved by the referring court.
5-12           (d)  The referring court or probate master may impose on a
5-13     party the expense of preserving the record as a court cost.
5-14           Sec. 54.613.  WITNESS.  (a)  A witness appearing before a
5-15     probate master is subject to the penalties for perjury provided by
5-16     law.
5-17           (b)  A referring court may fine or imprison a witness who:
5-18                 (1)  fails to appear before a probate master after
5-19     being summoned; or
5-20                 (2)  improperly refuses to answer a question if the
5-21     refusal has been certified to the court by the probate master.
5-22           Sec. 54.614.  REPORT.  (a)  The probate master's report may
5-23     contain the probate master's findings, conclusions, or
5-24     recommendations.  The probate master shall prepare a written report
5-25     in the form directed by the referring court.  The form may be a
5-26     notation on the referring court's docket sheet.
 6-1           (b)  After a hearing, the probate master shall provide the
 6-2     parties participating in the hearing notice of the substance of the
 6-3     probate master's report.
 6-4           (c)  Notice may be given to the parties:
 6-5                 (1)  in open court, by an oral statement or a copy of
 6-6     the probate master's written report; or
 6-7                 (2)  by certified mail, return receipt requested.
 6-8           (d)  The probate master shall certify the date of mailing of
 6-9     notice by certified mail.  Notice is considered given on the third
6-10     day after the date of mailing.
6-11           (e)  After a hearing conducted by a probate master, the
6-12     probate master shall send the probate master's signed and dated
6-13     report and all other papers relating to the case to the referring
6-14     court.
6-15           Sec. 54.615.  NOTICE OF RIGHT TO APPEAL.  (a)  A probate
6-16     master shall give all parties notice of the right of appeal to the
6-17     judge of the referring court.
6-18           (b)  The notice may be given:
6-19                 (1)  by oral statement in open court;
6-20                 (2)  by posting inside or outside the courtroom of the
6-21     referring court; or
6-22                 (3)  as otherwise directed by the referring court.
6-23           Sec. 54.616.  ORDER OF COURT.  (a)  Pending appeal of the
6-24     probate master's report to the referring court, the decisions and
6-25     recommendations of the probate master's report have the force and
6-26     effect, and are enforceable as, an order of the referring court,
 7-1     except for orders providing for incarceration or for the
 7-2     appointment of a receiver.
 7-3           (b)  If an appeal to the referring court is not filed or the
 7-4     right to an appeal to the referring court is waived, the findings
 7-5     and recommendations of the probate master become the order of the
 7-6     referring court at the time the judge of the referring court signs
 7-7     an order conforming to the probate master's report.
 7-8           Sec. 54.617.  JUDICIAL ACTION ON A MASTER'S REPORT.  Unless a
 7-9     party files a written notice of appeal, the referring court may:
7-10                 (1)  adopt, modify, or reject the probate master's
7-11     report;
7-12                 (2)  hear further evidence; or
7-13                 (3)  recommit the matter to the probate master for
7-14     further proceedings.
7-15           Sec. 54.618.  APPEAL TO REFERRING COURT.  (a)  A party may
7-16     appeal a probate master's report by filing notice of appeal not
7-17     later than the third day after the date the party receives notice
7-18     of the substance of the probate master's report as provided by
7-19     Section 54.614.
7-20           (b)  An appeal to the referring court must be made in writing
7-21     and specify the findings and conclusions of the probate master to
7-22     which the party objects.  The appeal is limited to the findings and
7-23     conclusions specified in the written appeal.
7-24           (c)  The parties may present witnesses on appeal to the
7-25     referring court as in a hearing de novo on the issues raised in the
7-26     appeal.
 8-1           (d)  Notice of an appeal to the referring court must be given
 8-2     to the opposing attorney in the manner provided by Rule 21a, Texas
 8-3     Rules of Civil Procedure.
 8-4           (e)  If an appeal to the referring court is filed by a party,
 8-5     any other party may file an appeal to the referring court not later
 8-6     than the seventh day after the date of filing of the initial
 8-7     appeal.
 8-8           (f)  The referring court, after notice to the parties, shall
 8-9     hold a hearing on all appeals not later than the 30th day after the
8-10     date on which the initial appeal was filed with the referring
8-11     court, unless all of the parties agree to a later date.
8-12           (g)  Before the start of a hearing conducted by a probate
8-13     master, the parties may waive the right of appeal to the referring
8-14     court.  The waiver may be in writing or on the record.
8-15           Sec. 54.619.  APPELLATE REVIEW.  (a)  Failure to appeal to
8-16     the referring court, by waiver or otherwise, the approval by the
8-17     referring court of a probate master's report does not deprive a
8-18     party of the right to appeal to or request other relief from a
8-19     court of appeals or the supreme court.
8-20           (b)  The date the judge of a referring court signs an order
8-21     or judgment is the controlling date for the purposes of appeal to
8-22     or request for other relief from a court of appeals or the supreme
8-23     court.
8-24           Sec. 54.620.  IMMUNITY.  A probate master appointed under
8-25     this subchapter has the judicial immunity of a probate judge.  All
8-26     existing immunity granted a probate master by law, express or
 9-1     implied, continues in full force and effect.
 9-2           SECTION 2.  Article 2.09, Code of Criminal Procedure, is
 9-3     amended to read as follows:
 9-4           Art. 2.09.  WHO ARE MAGISTRATES.  Each of the following
 9-5     officers is a magistrate within the meaning of this Code:  The
 9-6     justices of the Supreme Court, the judges of the Court of Criminal
 9-7     Appeals, the justices of the Courts of Appeals, the judges of the
 9-8     District Court, the magistrates appointed by the judges of the
 9-9     district courts of Bexar County, Dallas County, Tarrant County, or
9-10     Travis County that give preference to criminal cases, the criminal
9-11     law hearing officers for Harris County appointed under Subchapter
9-12     L, Chapter 54, Government Code, the magistrates appointed by the
9-13     judges of the district courts of Lubbock County or Webb County, the
9-14     magistrates appointed by the judges of the criminal district courts
9-15     of Dallas County or Tarrant County, the masters appointed by the
9-16     judges of the district courts and the county courts at law that
9-17     give preference to criminal cases in Jefferson County, the county
9-18     judges, the judges of the county courts at law, judges of the
9-19     county criminal courts, the judges of statutory probate courts, the
9-20     masters appointed by the judges of the statutory probate courts
9-21     under Subchapter G, Chapter 54, Government Code, the justices of
9-22     the peace, the mayors and recorders and the judges of the municipal
9-23     courts of incorporated cities or towns.
9-24           SECTION 3.  This Act takes effect September 1, 1999.
9-25           SECTION 4.  The importance of this legislation and the
9-26     crowded condition of the calendars in both houses create an
 10-1    emergency and an imperative public necessity that the
 10-2    constitutional rule requiring bills to be read on three several
 10-3    days in each house be suspended, and this rule is hereby suspended.